Weekly Notes: Wyo. Juvies Handled as Adults; Luzerne Update; Juvenile Drug Treatment Conference in December; and more

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*** Pat Arthur and Jennifer Horvath – attorneys for the National Center for Youth Law and the Wyoming ACLU, respectively – issued a report in June that put into numerical perspective exactly how outside the national standard Wyoming is when it comes to juvenile justice. The report finds, among other concerns, that about 90 percent of children in trouble with the law in Wyoming are processed through adult court.

It was pretty well known that Wyoming was not in lockstep with the majority of states who use juvenile court for most crimes by young people. It is the only state that does not participate in the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, which means that state government receives no federal formula money for JJ and therefore has no motivation to adhere to federal standards.

But 90 percent? In a Star-Tribune editorial last week, it was noted that Dave Freudenthal’s JJ advisor, Gary Hartman, believes the report could be a prelude to litigation if the legislature doesn’t act to change the juvenile justice process.

We tackled most of these issues in June of 2009. It is a state problem, but a lot would be solved by some intervention in Campbell County, which with a population of about 40,000 is responsible for the majority of juveniles held in adult jails. 

***The House Oversight and Investigation Subcommittee on Domestic Policy held a hearing this week on alternatives to incarceration. Front and center in the discussion: drugs courts, which a number of witnesses lauded for reductions in recidivism. As far as juvenile drug courts go (and they were not specifically discussed at the hearing): they vary in design and success, but one thing most have in common with each other is that they are viewed as an expendable part of the justice milieu at a shaky budget time.

***If you’re interested in juvenile drug treatment, mark Dec. 14-16 on your calendar. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration will host the Joint Meeting on Adolescent Treatment Effectiveness (JMATE) in Baltimore. The conference is free to attend, although you will have to pay for your travel and accommodations.

***Luzerne Update! Michael Conahan, the former Luzerne County president judge who helped orchestrate the county’s reliance on a private detention center in exchange for kickbacks, pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy charges today. Conahan and alleged fellow conspirator Mark Ciavarella accepted a plea agreement last summer that would have put both men away for 87 months, but Judge Edwin Kosik tossed that deal because he was dissatisfied with the length of the sentence and the men’s continued protestations of innocence. Kosik accepted this guilty plea, under which Conahan can be sentenced to prison for up to 20 years.

Conahan moved “one step closer to a federal prison cell this morning,” wrote Citizen’s Voice reporter Dave Janoski.

Assuming Kosik puts Conahan away for close to the maximum of two decades, it will provide catharsis to a community that has been painted an ugly shade by the whole incident. But the real potential for closure will come when Ciavarella faces the music. He has pleaded not guilty to all of the 48 counts against him, and awaits trial.

***After a five-year battle over freedom of information, British weekly The Observer obtained documents from the Ministry of Justice that outline brutal methods of controlling and restraining juveniles in privately run jails. Reporter Mark Townsend reports on the rules of engagement inside juvenile jails there, and it is pretty unbelievable what the ministry signed off on as acceptable.

***The Ella Baker Center released Learning from Our Mistakes this month, a short film that appeals to California policy makers to move toward a system that locks up fewer youths for low-level crimes.

***The Chicago-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is looking for a program officer for its juvenile justice program. That hire would answer to Laurie Garduque, who heads up JJ for the foundation, and would work with Candice Jones, the other JJ program officer.

***Judge Michael Key, a juvenile court judge in Troup County, Ga., since 1989, was installed this week as president of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. Key, who will serve a one-year term as president, succeeds Nebraska Judge Douglas Johnson, whose term included a reversal of position by the council on one of the field’s major court debates: use of the valid court order exception.